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Unexpected third developer proposes $800M casino in Fort Washington

A surprise third entrant into the race for Prince George’s County’s lucrative casino license has added intrigue to a competition in which the winner will earn the right to operate what many expect will be the East Coast’s top casino.

For nearly a year, MGM Resorts International Inc. of Las Vegas and Penn National Gaming Inc. of Wyomissing, Pa., had been the only gambling companies expected to mount a bid to operate a casino in Prince George’s County.

But when bidding closed Friday at 2 p.m., Greenwood Racing Inc. — which operates Pennsylvania’s top-grossing gambling facility, Parx Casino in Bensalem — had submitted paperwork to the state Video Lottery Facility Location Commission to build a resort casino at the intersection of Indian Head Highway and Old Fort Road in Fort Washington.

“It makes it more interesting,” said James Karmel, a Harford Community College professor who closely follows the mid-Atlantic casino industry. “Parx has established itself as a major player in the mid-Atlantic gaming industry. They basically reinvented the old Philadelphia Park. It’s been outstanding, a fabulous success.

“They’ve been able to become, essentially, the premier casino in Pennsylvania. They have a good track record in the field. They know what they’re doing.”

Greenwood subsidiary Maryland Casino LLC, the official applicant, is proposing an $800 million resort casino that would include 4,750 slot machines and 170 table games, plus a 250-room hotel and 5,000-space parking garage.

The company has some Maryland ties, having formed a joint venture with the Cordish Cos. last year to apply for a casino license in Philadelphia. Baltimore-based Cordish owns Maryland Live Casino at Arundel Mills mall, the Free State’s highest-grossing facility, where executives have previously said a Prince George’s County casino would disrupt Maryland Live’s business plan.

“We have no involvement with any of the casino applicants for the Prince George’s County license, although we are a partner with Greenwood Racing Inc. for a Philadelphia license,” Cordish Cos. Chairman David S. Cordish wrote in an email Friday. “The state of Maryland will no doubt choose the applicant paying the highest tax, coupled with the firmest, most certain commitment.”

He added that Maryland Live would be able to compete with the Prince George’s licensee and Horseshoe Baltimore, which is expected to open on Russell Street next year.

Penn National Gaming, as expected, entered a bid Friday to build a $700 million casino at Rosecroft Raceway. The company said the casino would have 500 slot machines, 140 table games, a separate poker room, hotel and spa. Penn National also said it would upgrade the horse racing facility, building a new grandstand and adding a parking garage.

The comparatively low number of slots — 500 would be the fewest of any Maryland casino — held Penn National’s initial application fee to $3 million. State regulators require a $3 million fee per every 500 slot machines proposed.

“We believe our proposed Hollywood Casino Resort at Rosecroft Raceway represents the best way forward … as it ensures the track’s long-term viability, provides further stability to the local horsemen and the state’s horse racing industry, brings significant new investment and employment to the area and will be a long-term driver of elevated economic activity,” Penn National President and COO Tim Wilmott said in a statement.

“We are looking forward to a fair and objective selection process and working with the local community and the state regulators to make this vision of a Rosecroft Raceway of the future a reality.”

The company — which spent more than $40 million last year to persuade voters to defeat a measure that authorized the construction of a casino in Prince George’s County — had played coy up until Friday’s 2 p.m. deadline, refusing to confirm that it planned to compete with MGM Resorts, which filed its own bid with state gambling officials Thursday.

Penn National had opposed the casino because it felt MGM Resorts was given a leg up, potentially imperiling the Pennsylvania’s company’s top property, Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia.

MGM Resorts — favored by powerful state and local elected officials — has leased 20 acres at the Peterson Cos.’ glitzy National Harbor development on the Potomac River, where the Las Vegas-based gambling company has said it would build an $800 million casino resort. Lottery officials said Friday that MGM’s application included 3,600 slot machines and 140 table games.

Karmel, the gambling expert, said Greenwood’s entry into the competition should not alter MGM’s role as the favorite.

“The partnership between MGM and Gaylord [National Resort and Convention Center] and the National Harbor site gives them a built-in advantage,” Karmel said. “You never know. The commission’s got to look at the criteria, and the proposal, very objectively.”

Greenwood’s bid, however, introduces a new wrinkle to the bidding war, which is not expected to be decided by the state slots commission until December. The company has proposed building its casino more than four miles south of National Harbor — near the Livingston Square Shopping Center.

“We are thrilled to present this exciting development proposal, which represents a game-changing opportunity for the state of Maryland, the County of Prince George’s and the community of Fort Washington,” Greenwood CEO Tony Ricci said in a statement. “The Parx Casino Hotel & Spa will dramatically enhance the local economy, with more than 5,000 new jobs and over $1 billion of incremental annual benefit.”

Already, skeptics point to roadways that would almost certainly have to be improved to make the casino site viable. But Karmel said Greenwood is taking a chance because it may like to open up new territory after operating exclusively in Pennsylvania.

“My sense is it’s more about opening up a new market for the company,” Karmel said. “I think it will probably be more about expanding their own brand, developing a new market. But there’s certainly cross-marketing potential. That’s the thing good casino companies do. They use their players club to shift their players around.

“If you’ve already established yourself [with one casino operator], you’re much more likely to go to the same one.”